Newly released documents detailing how far church leaders in Los Angeles went to conceal clergy sexual abuse in the late 1980s help fill in the story of the scandal and how it developed at the highest level of the nation's largest diocese. As reported in the Los Angeles Times:

Fifteen years before the clergy sex abuse scandal came to light, Archbishop Roger M. Mahony and a top advisor discussed ways to conceal the molestation of children from law enforcement, according to internal Catholic church records released Monday.The archdiocese's failure to purge pedophile clergy and reluctance to cooperate with law enforcement has previously been known. But the memos written in 1986 and 1987 by Mahony and Msgr. Thomas J. Curry, then the archdiocese's chief advisor on sex abuse cases, offer the strongest evidence yet of a concerted effort by officials in the nation's largest Catholic diocese to shield abusers from police. The newly released records, which the archdiocese fought for years to keep secret, reveal in church leaders' own words a desire to keep authorities from discovering that children were being molested.

The documents also show that in addition to hiding cases from police, an effort was made to avoid having predatory priests get counseling within the state because the California therapists would need to report the abuse to authorities. These scenes from internal records of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles offer further evidence that a coverup was orchestrated at high levels of the church. There is no sense that Mahony and his vicar were misled by therapists. They knew the abusive priests' conduct was criminal. They may not have known the full scope of the sexual abuse that existed, but they knew it was a gigantic problem and sought to keep it secret.Federal prosecutors in Los Angeles had conducted a grand jury investigation into the way officials in the archdiocese handled allegations of clergy sexual abuse. According to news reports in 2009, they were investigating whether the federal "honest services" law was violated. The theory was that a crime may have been committed if church officials were dishonest in their dealings with the Catholic faithful - that they defrauded Catholics of their "honest services." No charges were brought; the following year, the U.S. Supreme Court put some major restrictions on prosecutors' use of the "honest services" law.These documents surfaced in a civil suit, with more to come.

Paul Moses is the author, most recently, of The Italian Squad: The True Story of the Immigrant Cops Who Fought the Rise of the Mafia (NYU Press, 2023). He is a contributing writer. Twitter: @PaulBMoses.

Also by this author

Please email comments to [email protected] and join the conversation on our Facebook page.

© 2024 Commonweal Magazine. All rights reserved. Design by Point Five. Site by Deck Fifty.